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Literacy in America

The Difference Early Intervention Makes for Kids With Learning Disabilities

Emily was once a bubbly and enthusiastic student, but by third grade she had come to hate school and often complained through tears of not wanting to attend at all. 

Jamie, her mother, recognized her daughter’s struggles because she was diagnosed with dyslexia in third grade after an evaluation at a local children’s hospital. Jamie was determined that her daughter would not suffer the same way she did. 

Despite Jamie’s certainty and experience, it still took more than a year and the help of advocates to finally get the school to evaluate and provide services to Emily. 

The importance of early detection

Even with the increased awareness of dyslexia, stories like the one above are not unusual. Dyslexia is undoubtedly the best understood learning disability. It is also likely the most common with some research indicating that as many as 80 percent of people with learning disabilities struggle with word reading skills. Research on dyslexia has underscored the necessity of early identification and intervention to maximize academic, social, and emotional outcomes. 

The good news is that we know how to identify risk factors for dyslexia, and we know what instruction and intervention will mitigate its impact and improve educational outcomes. Additionally, technology like audio books and speech-to-text software is readily available to support students in accessing grade-level content while their skill deficits are remediated. 

While more research is needed to understand other learning disabilities like dysgraphia, dyscalculia, and oral and written language, and non-verbal learning disabilities, existing research strongly suggests that, like with dyslexia, early identification and intervention result in the best outcomes. 

In a recently published study involving New York City public schools, Schwartz, Hopkins, and Steifel found that students with learning disabilities showed improved academic outcomes after they were placed in special education and that the greatest gains occurred when students began to receive services in the earlier grades. 

The Learning Disabilities Association of America advocates for early identification and evidence-based interventions for all individuals with learning disabilities, because all children deserve the best possible educational experience.

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